No. Nuclear power is not carbon free or even low on carbon.
We have touched on ’s nuclear power plants before. This time, let’s look at the oft-stated claim that nuclear power is ‘carbon free.’
A nuclear power plant may lack the tall exhaust stack that always accompanies coal-fired plants. But does that mean that nukes are carbon free?
The nuclear energy life cycle contains plenty of carbon emitting steps.
To quote “Ask Pablo” here: “Nuclear energy cannot be considered truly renewable because it relies on a fuel. One that is not only highly processed and refined, but also one that is not replenished by incoming solar energy or biological processes, like wind, solar, tidal, and biomass are.”
Nuclear plants are far from carbon free. They may emit less than fossil fuel plants, but certainly do cause considerable pollution.
A nuclear power emits about 15.42 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (greenhouse gas) for every 1 gigawatt-hour (GWh) of power produced. Surprisingly, about two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions, 9.6 tons per GWh, come from the production of the heavy water necessary to the process. The rest comes from the considerable carbon cost of mining, milling, and fuel enrichment for the uranium, the construction of concrete domes, and plant operation and maintenance (Have you ever seen a nuclear plant without a considerable fleet of vehicles?).
In 2010, Entergy’s Indian Point 2 plant produced net energy of 7,326 gigawatt hours and Indian Point 3 produced 8,995 gigawatt hours, according the 2011 Gold Book issued annually by the New York Independent System Operator.
That annual production means these plants emitted a collective 16,321 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents into our air in 2010 alone if we include the actual "fullly loaded" cost of all the steps in the nuclear power process. If the Ford Focus weighs 2 tons, that is the equivalent of suspending 8000 cars worth of emissions in the atmosphere in one year.
Actually, we have omitted one: disposal of the spent nuclear fuel rods.